Recognizing that most often there is no representation at all (and therefore, i guess, we should be happy anyone is even thinking about it?), visual representations of those of us who do have visible / perceptible / etc physical disabilities (and, ideally, representations which don’t pander to ableist niceties and notions of what it is to be physically disabled in this particular way, but let’s not get carried away) are necessary, they are important, they matter; and to me they do not and cannot take the place of representing all disabled folks. When certain stereotypical images* are used to represent “all disabilities” -to the inevitable exclusion of the outrageous diversity across disability- they do a disservice to all of us, and they do ableism’s dirty work for it. No thanks.
And yet, i still return to my reality that images of those of us who have visible / perceptible / etc physical disabilities (in addition to whatever else we got goin’ on) matter. As a sighted person, it matters to me when i don’t see anything like that, and it matters when i do. Yes, i do take note of a lack of assistive devices, canes, wheels, masks, braces, amplifiers, bandages, oxygen tanks, plugs, bags assistants, etc., and variously bent / broken disabled bodies represented in a project. Not because i believe that that’s somehow the only way to assess the kind of disability “inclusion/ exclusion” that’s happening in any given project or community (it’s not), or because i think that disability looks one specific way (it doesn’t). i take note because it matters to me to see some however tiny piece of my experience reflected, the piece that “just happens to be” the most blatantly obvious thing about me specifically about certain disability experiences. That means something.
i tire of people saying when they are asked about there being no visual representation of certain kinds of disability (particularly when they are assessing other kinds of inclusion/exclusion via specifically visual cues) “well, you can’t tell who is disabled or not just by looking!” In a similar way i tire when people who don’t seem to want to make a ramp materialize for their event say things like “Well access isn’t only about ramps you know!!” – as though it wasn’t fricken hugely variant disability justice communities that came up with that fancyass idea in the first place.
When there are no people with assistive devices or anything about our disabled bodies that is clearly, blatantly, pretty unceasingly marked as disabled anywhere in a project, that actually MEANS something. To me, it doesn’t mean EVERYthing, but it sure as fuck means SOMEthing. i’d like to be able to talk about that very real experience of exclusion/inclusion without being told i must therefore think disability looks one way. If you know anything about me in relation to disabilities and access and ableism, you know this.
[*and im not actually talking about the international accessibility icon. that’s another conversation]